Unified Percussion


Photo Courtesy of Jason Nouhan

Mentor Serenity Sisneros rehearses with students Nikolai Nelson and Hope Palmquist.

For many neurodivergent people, constant loud noise can be a source of stress and overstimulation. For the students of Silver Creek High School’s Unified Percussion Ensemble, banging on drums is a brand new, exciting experience. Over the Fall 2022 semester, the special education students involved in this new program spent every week practicing their drum cadences for their first concert on November 2nd.

The Unified Percussion started last year at Mead High School, when staff saw an opportunity to integrate their special education program into their music program. Ever since the success of Mead’s program, several schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District have followed, including Silver Creek.

“I wouldn’t say I like it… I would say I actually love Unified Percussion because I get to learn how to play all the different drums!” Said Nikolai Nelson, a special education student who is a member of the ensemble. Nelson plays a snare drum in the group.

Creek’s Unified Percussion Ensemble has already performed once at the district’s St. Vrain Band Night concert, a celebration of every high school marching band in the area. However, they had to perform together with every other Unified group in the district, and they were only able to perform one piece.

At Silver Creek’s November concert, not only did Unified Percussion play three drum cadences(pieces traditionally used between breaks in marches during parades) by composer Cassidy Byars, but they were also the opening performance for the entire band concert.

In addition to teaching special education students basic percussion skills, the Unified Percussion Ensemble course also allows students to participate as mentors to the special education students. This gives them a chance to pick up valuable skills about teaching and working with neurodivergent people.

“You have to break down drumming and be able to teach it to someone who has never touched a drum,” said Max Nacius, one of the class’s mentors. “Bringing it to a very basic level of understanding.”

The mentors connect with every student of the class, but they are mostly focused on teaching the students the drums they are assigned. For example, Nacius teaches his students to play the quads, a mounted set of five differently-pitched drums.

The Ensemble’s first piece, the terrifyingly-named “Zombie Squirrels” is a funky, fast groove. This is also the latest cadence that Unified learned, managing to pick it up in only a month. Their ability to stay together provided a fantastic opening to the concert.

The second piece the group played is called “Navigator”. This is a tricky cadence, connecting four different sections that the students needed to memorize. However, the students were able to pull it together and succeed.

The final piece, “Rock You We Will,” is a parody of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, with the name changed to be spoken in the same object-subject-verb speech pattern used by Yoda from Star Wars. This is the first cadence the group learned and only contains two simple sections. Because it is far less complex than the other cadences, this made for a perfect finale to what was some of the students’ first live performance ever.

To finish off the semester, the students of Unified Percussion will begin to learn how to play mallet instruments such as marimbas and vibraphones. This will allow them to learn the melodic side of percussion, an instrument genre typically dominated by rhythmic sounds. They plan to perform their first mallet piece on December 2nd, during Silver Creek’s new Winter Gala.

With Unified programs already existing for most other extracurricular activities, Silver Creek’s special education students finally have the opportunity to experience the world of music. Some students love the class, some students hate it, but one thing is clear—the Unified Percussion program is a huge step forward for Silver Creek High School’s inclusivity.